A 3D diorama with a royal scifi theme for a University assignment that concentrated on the basics of 3D modelling
Autodesk Maya LT, Unity
Substance 3D Painter, Affinity Designer
This university assignment explored 3D modelling, providing an opportunity to develop skills with the Maya software while creating a thematic diorama. The objective was to design a 3D scene with textures and animations to be showcased on the SketchFab platform. SketchFab allows for easy online sharing and viewing of fully rendered 3D scenes in a web browser. Beyond the technical aspects of modelling, the diorama had to be more than just static objects; it needed to narrate a story through SketchFab's annotation feature. This feature allows for labels to explain significant points of the models. Additionally, incorporating animations was a requirement as it added variety and leveraged another feature of the SketchFab platform. Finally, the texturing process utilised various techniques, from real-world photographic textures to hand-painted textures and procedurally generated textures from Substance Painter.
Procedural textures are an innovative approach to texturing in 3D graphics. Unlike traditional textures that rely on static, often real-world images, procedural textures are generated algorithmically based on mathematical equations and patterns. This algorithmic generation allows for complete control over the appearance and behaviour of textures for an infinite variety of realistic visual effects. Within Unity, a material is a collection of settings and shaders that define how light interacts with the surface of an object, ultimately determining its appearance. This can be used to design materials exhibiting diverse properties such as transparency, reflection, emission, etc. Unity's real-time rendering capabilities provide an opportunity to experience the visual impact of materials in real time. While procedural textures can be designed in software such as Substance Painter, when exporting materials, specific considerations come into play. Depending on the rendering choice the materials results will vary as limitations may be encountered when transferred to other platforms or software.
The design phase of this project was somewhat limited as some models were unoriginal and served as a canvas for honing techniques. Standout creations such as the cheese crate and the potted salt plant required research and thoughtful design to achieve an intricate yet sensible level of detail. The cheese crate, a focus of functionality and aesthetics, required careful consideration of its concept. Imagining a futuristic world, the crate was equipped with a coolant system to ensure freshness. Delving into the nuances of this concept, the crate was designed to include essential features such as air vents, power cables, and liquid coolant conduits. As a part of the iterative design process adding a side handle allowed for an obvious locking mechanism for the crate's lid. Similarly, the potted salt plant, indigenous to an alien desert world, presented a unique design challenge. Visualising its natural habitat devoid of oceans, the plant was potted in sand, reflecting its native environment. The creation of concept art from different viewpoints facilitated swift adjustments and enhancements, ensuring every intricate detail aligned harmoniously with the overarching theme.
When designing the presentation of the diorama, the choice of an isometric 3D room model was evident, providing a perfect canvas for showcasing the interior models. To construct the setting, bare floor and wall elements were planned to form the foundation of the scene. To exude a futuristic ambience, the walls were adorned with subtle corridor-like shapes and indents, adding depth and texture to the environment. Incorporating a door to welcome viewers into the scene added variety, as the narrative called for practicality over conventional windows. A key consideration throughout the set dressing was to ensure detailing from every angle. As the final diorama would be a fully 3D navigable scene on SketchFab, attention was devoted to every nook and cranny of the exterior wall. This meticulous approach ensured that each viewpoint within the diorama conveyed a captivating experience.
The development phase of the diorama started with creating the unoriginal practice objects like wooden boxes, energy cells, and weapons. An essential criterion for each model was to avoid using triangles, which required the redesign of standard cylinder caps into quads for optimal results. Once the models were developed, they were unwrapped to prepare them for the subsequent texturing phase. Objects developed from concept artwork received detailed attention, as the artwork was imported into the scene on a plane, which enabled direct comparison and ensured faithful representation. The cheese crate, a focal point of the diorama, was a straightforward modelling process due to accurately designed and scaled concept art. While the exterior adhered closely to the artwork, creative deviations were explored for the inside of the crate due to a need for corresponding concept art. Similarly, the potted salt plant, power cable, and locked book were modelled to capture the essence of their respective concept designs faithfully.
Texture creation underwent a transformation during development to achieve a cohesive design language. The initial textures for the cheese crate and wooden boxes were crafted in Affinity Designer, with photo images applied to the latter. However, midway through the process, a switch to Substance Painter replaced certain textures with new and improved stylised versions. The texture for the cheese wedges, sourced from an online Substance Painter material library, underwent modification, utilising the normal map for the holes and Substance's plastic materials to achieve the desired yellow gloss effect. Similarly, creating the texture for the salt part of the potted plant proved challenging, as existing white textures appeared too bright. A resourceful solution emerged as a darker grey texture scaled down from a moon image, imparting a solid yet visually appealing appearance.
To preview the final materials and render quality, Unity was a real-time rendering tool used to stage the scene and render the models. This was particularly useful as SketchFab, the chosen platform for showcasing the diorama, had a limit on the number of free uploads available. Unity's capabilities facilitated the compilation of all models into a single scene, where materials were designed for each object. The finalised scene was then exported as a single FBX model using the FBX Exporter package in Unity, ensuring seamless integration with SketchFab. It is important to note that the final render may vary when viewed in different software due to differing lighting and material attribute presentations. Nevertheless, SketchFab proved to be a reliable platform, accurately retaining the same look as the models rendered in Unity, with the added benefit of enhanced lighting for metallic surfaces, elevating the visual experience.
Overall, this project was a learning experience, providing opportunities to refine modelling skills in Maya and create a compelling room scene for presentation on the SketchFab platform. As with any artistic endeavour, there is always room for improvement, and the insights gained from this project will serve as valuable lessons for future projects. While the project achieved its objectives, some areas for improvement included modelling, texturing, and layout. Modelling enhancements could have been made to particular objects, such as the energy cell, which would benefit from an indicator to display its energy levels, along with textured windows with glowing emission to clarify its purpose. Further refinements to the animation on the leaves of the salt pot plant were needed, smoothing out the points for a more seamless and immersive animation. The locked book's spine could have been adjusted to achieve smoother curves, complementing the overall design style.
Regarding texturing, while the scene featured a consistent and visually pleasing style, adjustments could have been made to achieve a more realistic look. For instance, the wooden handle on the sword had a grain pattern along the wrong axis, leading to noticeable seams on the edge. To enhance realism and visual interest, introducing scratches, scuff marks, and scorch marks on the weapons lent an element of authenticity and wear to the scene. A more diverse wooden grain could have been implemented to avoid repeating patterns on the wooden boxes while ensuring the metal border texture aligned with the rest of the metal textures used.
The scene's layout successfully created an appealing and coherent setting; however, better organisation could have been achieved. Expanding the scene by adding more cargo items, such as stacking wooden boxes in a less orderly manner, and showcasing multiple energy cells in bulk, would have added depth and realism to the environment. Basic shelving, tables, and weapon holders could have further integrated the objects with their surroundings. Power and coolant cables could have been bent and curled along the ground to ground the cheese crate into the scene, visually connecting it to a socket in the wall. Finally, the floor could have been enriched with intentional design elements, complementing the walls and introducing built-in lighting to add depth and character to the scene.